Florida-based Eugene Grey mines familiar territory in interpreting rhythm and blues and reggae hits of years past. The music is timeless and Grey and his band certainly embraces a laid-back lilt of tropical sunshine and emerald waters. His music is graceful, sunny, polished but doesn’t the approach of the edginess of the originals.
Over thirty years ago, ‘Spinning Wheel’ was a familiar Blood, Sweat and Tears song that began with an abrupt splash of startling horns. So does Grey begin his album. But, it is virtually the same arrangement. It’s a crisp, neat version, but lacks the tension and the glory of the original. Grey does provide some very nice, sharp guitar licks, but they are all too brief.
‘Johnny Too Bad’ was one of the most memorable songs from "The Harder They Come" album also released three decades ago. The music conveyed tropical serenity, but the lyrics portrayed impending violence. The amiable beat was a thin veneer of underlying turmoil and Third World struggle. Without the story line, Grey’s version is more carefree. It is a timeless paradise. It sounds like an advertisement for Club Med. ‘Cottage in Negril’ sounds exactly what it is. It evokes a sunny, easy-going portrait of a seaside resort town.
On the upside, Bunny Lee’s ‘Grooving Out On Life’ is a complete joy. Grey provides some concise picking and singers sound like angels from the heavens. It works. It sounds so dreamy that paradise feels within reach. It’s a tune that merits repeated listening. On the downside, ‘Wichita Lineman’ sounds out of place. Instead of the lushness, the familiar piece evokes a barren landscape. Cigarettes being stubbed out on the prairie.
Eugene Grey is an experienced and gifted jazz guitarist. His credentials include touring with Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and Ras Tesfa. That skill shows in the way he plays. It can be subtle, it can be sharp. And, at times, a bit stiff like the suit that he wears on the album cover in paradise.